The Mirror with a Memory


The daguerreotype, "the mirror with a memory."
- Sir Oliver Wendell Holmes

Portrait of a Nurse and Child, c. 1850.











"I must now do three things: (1) give more sharpness to the representation of the subject; (2) transpose the colors; and (3) fix them permanently, which will not be the easiest of the three." - Joseph Nicephore Niepce
Joseph Nicephore Niepce, View from His Window at Le Gras, c. 1826. Heliograph.











Joseph Nicephore Niepce, View from His Window at Le Gras,
c. 1826. Heliograph.
Re-photographed with silver gelatin in the 1950s.











Enter Daguerre...


Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre











Daguerre's diorama











1829 Daguerre and Niepce agree to share all knowledge, honor and profit from their collaborative invention

silver nitrate

Silver Nitrate

1831 Daguerre discovers that silver iodide is more light sensitive than silver nitrate
1833 Niepece dies of a stroke
1834 Daguerre experiments with new process using silver iodide
Uses professional camera with quality lens
Uses silver-plated sheet of copper sensitized with silver iodide
Reduced exposure time to 20 to 30 minutes
1835 - 1839 Daguerre succeeds in permanently fixing an image











In 1839 Sir John Frederick William Herschel provides the final element necessary when he discovers that hyposulphite of soda will arrest the action of light, making photographic images permanent. His research is read to the Royal Academy in 1839.

Sir John Frederick William Herschel

Develops chemical recipe for 'hypo', which stops silver salts reacting with light, thereby fixing the image permanently
Hyposulphite of soda acts as a fixer, removing unexposed silver halide, and therefore preventing any further reaction to light
Later coins the term photography = light writing
and applies the terms "positive" and "negative"
Julia Margaret Cameron, Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1867.











Daguerreotype process:

The Artist's Studio


Silver-plated sheet of copper
Placed silver side down over box containing iodine
Iodine fumes react with the silver to create light sensitive silver iodide on the surface of the plate
Plate exposed in camera obscura for several hours
No image visible afterwards
Plate exposed to fumes from heated mercury
"Latent image" made visible
Plate bathed in strong solution of table salt
Halts the light sensitivity of the silver iodide
Plate washed in water
Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, Still Life in Studio, 1837. Daguerreotype.











"It is hardly too much to say, that those whom we love no longer leave us in dying, as they did of old. They remain with us just as they appeared in life; they look down upon us from our walls; they lie upon our tables... But the unfading artificial retina which has looked upon them retains their impress, and a fresh sunbeam lays this on the living nerve as if it were radiated from the breathing shape. How these shadows last, and how their originals fade away!" - Sir Oliver Wendell Holmes
Southworth and Hawes, Young Girl, c. 1850.  Daguerreotype.











Daguerre hires Count Francois Arago, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences, to promote invention and secure copyright from government
Hippolyte Bayard makes direct positives on sensitized paper
  • Exposes paper with silver chloride emulsion to light
  • Soaks paper in potassium iodide
  • Exposes paper in obscura about 12 minutes
  • Washes paper in bath of hyposulphite of soda
Bayard shows examples of prints to Count Arago
  • Arago pressures Bayard not to publish results of his experiments
Hippolyte Bayard, Plaster Casts,
c. 1839.  Direct paper positive.











January 9, 1839
  • Arago announces Daguerre's process to a joint session of the Academy of Science and the Academy of Fine Art
August 19, 1839
  • Daguerre's process publicly announced and Daguerre receives French patent
  • Daguerre receives lifetime pension from French government
  • Daguerre applies for English patent on the process
  • Daguerre claims full credit for the invention (Niepce goes unrecognized for years)
  • Niepce's son sues the government for compensation for his part in Daguerre's process
Count Francois Arago. Lithograph.











Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, Triptych with three daguerreotypes presented to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, 1839.











Le Boulevard du Temple

Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, Le Boulevard Du Temple, c. 1837. Daguerreotype.











Le Boulevard du Temple

Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre,
Le Boulevard Du Temple, c. 1837. Daguerreotype.

Attributed to Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre,
Daguerreotype of M. Huet? 1837.










Daguerreotype camera

1839 Daguerreotype camera


The brother-in-law of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, Alphonse Giroux
manufactured camera obscuras based on Daguerre's custom device, and sold them internationally.

In 2010, an 1839 Daguerreotype Giroux sold for $899,000 making it the most expensive camera.











The Propylea

Pierre Gusttave Joly de Ltbiniere, The Propylaea at Athens, 1839. Aquatint engraving from a daguerreotype.










June 1839
Hippolyte Bayard exhibits 30 of his direct positive prints in Paris

Self-portrait as Drowned Man

First public exhibition of photographic images
Bayard given small cash award
"The corpse you see is that of M. Bayard… The Academy, the King and all those who have seen his pictures admired them, just as you do… This has brought him prestige, but not a penny. The government, which has supported M. Daguerre more than is necessary, declared it could do nothing for M. Bayard, and the unhappy man drowned himself…he has been at the morgue for several days, and no one has recognized him. Ladies and gentlemen, you'd better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay."
- Hippolyte Bayard
Hippolyte Bayard, Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, 1840. Direct paper positive.











Daguerreotype Equipment





















Properties of the daguerreotype:
  • Mirror view of the original scene
  • Shiny, mirror-like surface
  • Very delicate, one-of-a-kind direct positive image
Construction of a daguerreotype: hinged, velvet-lined case, plate, frame, matte, and glass.











Daguerreotype drawbacks:

  • Long exposure time
  • Beyond the average person's means
  • Cameras were large and cumbersome
Giroux Daguerreotype Camera











By the end of 1840 three major improvements made:

Robert Cornelius

  • Cameras manufactured with better quality lens
  • More light-sensitive plates developed
  • Enriched tones of daguerreotype image with gilding
Robert Cornelius, Self-Portrait, 1839.
First daguerreotype produced in U.S.?











John Draper, Miss Dorothy Catherine Draper,
c. 1840. Daguerreotype.
Southworth and Hawes, Woman in Black,
c. 1850. Daguerreotype.